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Senator Plett Speaks at Second Reading of Bill S-244 (National Kindness Week)

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Kindness Week Bill; Second Reading

Hon. Donald Neil Plett: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill S-244, An Act respecting Kindness Week.

That was the reaction I got from my own caucus. Some of my caucus and staff thought it would be hilarious if I were to be the critic on the kindness bill. I cannot understand what they were thinking.

Today, colleagues, I was having lunch with my beautiful granddaughter, and I said I was speaking to kindness week. She said, “Grandpa, why can’t everyone be kind like you?” I agreed with her.

Colleagues, as much as I wanted to be the critic of this bill, it was taken out of my hands. Senator Martin is our caucus critic. She is not as kind as I am.

I do want to share a few thoughts on this bill. I want to commend Senator Munson on the intention behind this bill, as I believe any initiative that would result in our society being more kind is certainly admirable. However, I have little reason to believe that this bill will achieve that.

In his remarks, Senator Munson, mentioned Hug a Plumber Day. Now, that’s a day to celebrate. As Senator Mockler always says, every household in the country needs a plumber.

Colleagues, the major difference, of course, is that Hug a Plumber Day is not an official national day recognized by an act of Parliament, and nor should it be. These days, weeks and events are already too frequently enshrined into federal legislation. When we overuse this tool of remembrance and celebration, we risk taking away any significance from the truly important nationally observed days and events.

What we are left with is a large list of observed days that we, as parliamentarians, cannot list, let alone recall the date. I would speculate that the average Canadian would not be able to name half of these days or events. As a matter of fact, I would speculate that half of the senators would not be able to do that.

We currently have 17 recognized commemorative days, five federally recognized commemorative weeks, and four federally recognized commemorative months each year. The last thing we want is for a growing list to minimize the importance or significance of days like Lincoln Alexander Day, Holocaust Memorial Day or World Autism Awareness Day. These days, like many of the days and events recognized by acts of Parliament, are meant to bring attention to a cause that requires the attention of the Canadian people.

As Senator Munson rightly stated, World Autism Awareness Day has led to meaningful action. This was a demonstrably wonderful use of this tool that we can use in Parliament. However, is there a legitimate concern or recurring problem in Canada that a national kindness week would remedy — in Canada of all places?

The many acts of kindness following the horrific truck attack in Toronto were alluded to in Senator Munson’s speech. Similarly, profound acts of kindness were demonstrated after the terrible Humboldt tragedy.

Of course, colleagues, this is the Canadian way. We should all be immensely proud of that. Canadians are teased for our over-the-top politeness and kindness. When we nearly bump into a stranger, we greet each other with, “Sorry,” nicknamed the “Canadian standoff.” All this to say we do not have a problem with kindness in this country.

Does that mean that we should not strive to do better? Even we as Canadians can always do better. However, I have a hard time believing that observing a national week of kindness will actually result in a cultural, societal shift towards kindness.

Colleagues, we remember the recent tragic passing of our colleague Gord Brown. The common sentiment expressed in every tribute and each eulogy was Gord’s kindness and generosity. Gord truly lived this way and lived every day as an example of how to treat others. Gord was the whip on the other side, and I certainly need to take lessons.

Kindness is infectious and contagious. When kindness comes from a place of sincerity, it inspires us to pay it forward. It is through the example of people like Gord Brown that encourages us to be more kind to one another. It is not through legislated weeks.

We as parliamentarians and leaders within our communities must also do better. We must endeavour to encourage acts of kindness towards others in everything we do and not solely one week out of a year.

These days, weeks and events should really only be considered when there is a historical event or figure that demands our attention, remembrance or commemoration, or if the day will truly make a positive change in Canadian society.

I believe that Canada is the greatest country in the world, and I believe we have the most generous and kind citizens in the world.

While I respect the goal of this legislation, I do not believe that national kindness week will do what Senator Munson is hoping it will do.

I will support this legislation moving to committee for further study, and I will not stand in the way of this bill moving forward at any stage. However, colleagues, I do believe that we need to be mindful of the growing list of holidays and observances we enshrine into federal legislation going forward.

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